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Superscription.—“To the Chief Musician.” See Introduction to Psalms 57:0. “Upon Neginah.” Hebrew: Neginath. “The LXX. and Vulg., evidently read Neginoth in the plural, which occurs in the title of five psalms, and is perhaps the true reading. Whether the word be singular or plural, it is the general term by which all stringed instruments are described.” “Of David.” The contents of the psalm confirm the title as to its Davidic authorship. The psalm was probably composed by David When he was in exile in consequence of the rebellion of Absalom (2 Samuel 15-18, especially 2 Samuel 17:22).
THE CRY OF A TROUBLED HEART
We have here—
I. A painful experience. “From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed.” The experience of David included—
1. Distressing exile. “From the end of the earth” is an expression denoting a painful sense of removal to a great distance from the dwelling-place of God. The country to the east of Jordan, into which David had been compelled to retreat, was not accounted the Lord’s land properly. (Comp. Numbers 32:29; Joshua 22:19). In this country the Psalmist felt himself as it were banished to the extremity of the earth, far from the face of God. He was far from the city that he loved most, from his home, from his throne, and from the tabernacle of his God. To the godly soul separation from the ordinances of worship is a sore trial.
2. Overwhelming sorrow. “When my heart is overwhelmed.” Moll: “In the covering of my heart.” The idea is that his heart was enveloped with trouble. Anxiety and grief wrapped his soul as a garment. Terribly bitter and painful were the experiences of the Psalmist at this time. Our souls, too, have known the bitterness and desolation of great sorrows and severe trials. Like David, there are times when we are in anguish because of the feeling of absence from God, and the rebellion of our own children, and the ingratitude and treachery of those we esteemed our friends, &c.
II. A fervent prayer. “Hear my cry, O God,” &c.
1. The object of the prayer. The Psalmist seeks Divine audience. “Hear my cry, O God.” And Divine consideration. “Attend unto my prayer.” But the chief object of his prayer was Divine protection. “Lead me to the rock that is higher than L” More correctly: “Lead me to a rock that is too high for me;” i.e., a rock so high that he could not ascend it by his own power, and which his enemies would not be able to ascend. His own resources were inadequate to secure his safety; so he seeks the protection of God. The high rock is a frequent figure for security. He who stands upon it is far above the reach of his enemies. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the true Rock for human souls.
2. The self-distrust involved in this prayer. “Lead me” is the cry of the man who feels incompetent to direct his own steps, or choose his own path. “To a rock that is too high for me,” indicates a sense of insufficiency and the abandonment of self-dependence. If we are to be secure and blessed, we must be led to ONE who is far above us in wisdom, power, &c.
3. The personality of this prayer. “Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer,” &c. “Though all men pray,” says Dr. Parker, “yet each man has his own prayer. The heart has its own way of telling its own tales, and cannot be satisfied with paraphrase or generalisation. It must tell all its sins, and set forth in order its troubles, its plagues, and its high desires; with brokenness of speech, which is often the most perfect of eloquence, it must recite the number of its failures, and tell of all its groping and stumbling along the path of life. No man will it accept as a hired advocate; no voice could do it justice; it must utter my cry and my prayer, and where it cannot find words it will heave the sigh or the groan which asks God to be His own interpreter. We may have great helps in prayer, the spirit may accept the choicely wise and tender words of other men; yet there is a point at which the heart breaks away to hold secret intercourse with the Father and Saviour of men.”
This is indeed a fervent prayer—a pathetic, urgent, earnest cry of the human heart to God.
III. A cheering recollection. “Thou hast been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy.” In former times God had been to the Psalmist a sure refuge, had preserved him safely amid many and great dangers, &c. To the thoughtful and devout heart life abounds with memorials of the Divine goodness and faithfulness. “It is inexpressibly important to keep the mind up to a full realisation of all that God has done in one’s personal history. When a man’s own history goes for nothing with him, he may be regarded as having sunk below the level of a man; but if he will watch how God has developed his life, how wondrously He has turned it, how gently He has withdrawn it into ‘shelter’ when the storm was coming, how graciously He has placed it in the ‘strong tower’ when sounds of war shook the air, he will be moved from thankfulness to eloquence, and will say to those who doubtfully look on—‘In God is my salvation and my glory;’ ” &c. Recollections such as this of David’s should be cherished; because—
1. They impress us with our obligations to God.
2. They inspire us with hope in time of trial, and courage in time of danger.
IV. An exemplary resolution. “I will abide in Thy tabernacle for ever;” &c. The Psalmist’s recollection of past mercies inspired him with confidence in his present dangers. “Few of us would be doubtful of the future if we would make a right use of the past.” “Experience is the nurse of faith.” Trusting in God, the Psalmist looks forward to a life of—
1. Perpetual worship. “I will abide in Thy tabernacle for ever.” He has a firm assurance that he will be restored to his home and to the public worship of God. It may be, perhaps, that he looked forward to a home in heaven with God for ever. A life of worship is ennobling and blessed.
2. Hearty confidence. “I will trust in the covert of Thy wings.” A very tender and assuring figure, suggestive of affection, security, rest. Such was the full and hearty trust of the Psalmist in God.
CONCLUSION.—Let us aspire and strive after a life of confidence and worship. Such a life will raise us above the dread of dangers, will bring to us rest and comfort in the midst of sore trials, and will lead us to the tabernacle of God as our eternal home.
THE SHELTERING ROCK
I. The season referred to. “When my heart is overwhelmed.” There are seasons in which the soul of the Christian is overwhelmed:—
1. From a sense of the Divine claims on our obedience (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37).
2. From the pressure of heavy trials (Psalms 55:12-14).
3. From the keenness of temptation. The very best of men are subject to temptation. Moses and David, Daniel and Job. Yea, Christ Himself.
4. From the anticipations of future evils.
II. Whither the Psalmist desires to be led. “To the rock that is higher than I.” The rock gives the idea—
1. Of strength (Psalms 62:2; Psalms 62:6; Psalms 62:8).
2. Durability. “I am the Lord, I change not.” “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”
III. The grounds of the Psalmist’s plea. “From the ends of the earth,” &c.
1. This prayer is prompted by a consciousness of need.
2. In this prayer we have the true source of ability addressed.
3. In this prayer we see the encouragement he derives from past experience. “For Thou hast been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy.”—GEO. STOCKDALE, in “The Pulpit Analyst.”
THE CONFIDENCE OF A TROUBLED HEART
We have here—
I. Confidence of safety and stability in God. “Thou wilt prolong the king’s life; his years as many generations. He shall abide before God for ever.” These expressions of confidence are variously interpreted. They are interpreted of (ɑ) David himself—that God would deliver him out of the danger in which he was placed, would grant him long life, and restore him to the throne and the tabernacle without danger of being driven into exile again. (β) Of the dynasty of David. Hengstenberg: “David speaks designedly of the days of the king instead of his own days for the purpose of showing that he considered the promise of eternal dominion as relating not to himself personally, but to his family—the royal family of David.” (γ) Of the Messiah. “David, realising that he is the anointed of the Lord, does not always distinguish between himself and the Messianic dynasty, so that the latter thought fills up as it were the background of his consciousness.”
We certainly have here an expression of his assurance of his own safety and stability. His occupancy of the throne was imperilled. Absalom and the rebel army sought to take even his life. But he was confident that God would preserve his life, and restore him to his throne. “He shall abide before God for ever,” may signify more than a constant abode at Jerusalem in the enjoyment of the ordinances of worship. Barnes: “His restoration to his home, to his throne, and to the privileges of the sanctuary, he may have regarded as an emblem of his ultimate reception into a peaceful heaven, and his mind may have glanced rapidly from the one to the other. On earth, after his restoration, he would have no fear that he would be banished again; in heaven, of which such a restoration might be regarded as an emblem, there would be no change, no exile.”
Notwithstanding the subtlety and malice and power of his enemies, the spiritual interests of the godly man are perfectly secured by Divine grace (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:31-39; 2 Timothy 1:12). Every faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus may through Him triumph in the assurance of “a crown of glory that fadeth not away,” and of “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled,” &c.
II. Confidence arising out of past experiences. “Thou, O God, hast heard my vows; Thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear Thy name.”
1. David had proved the efficacy of prayer. His vows included petitions. They were prayers accompanied with solemn promises. Prayer was not a mere theory or form with David, not a spiritual gymnastic either. He knew its reality and power and preciousness by experience.
2. He had received the heritage of the godly. “Thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear Thy name.” Perowne: “Primarily this would be the land of Canaan, and then it would include all blessings, temporal and spiritual, which were in fact implied and comprised in the possession of the land.” Glorious is the heritage of those who fear God now (Romans 8:16-17). It is clear, from both the experience of the Psalmist and the statement of the apostle, that the heritage of the godly may include severe trials. It is a point of great practical importance.
These past experiences were an encouragement to the Psalmist to trust God in his present dangers and trials. “History is rightly used when it becomes the guide of hope. Yesterday enriches to-day. All the historic triumphs of the Divine arm stimulate us in the present battle.” What God has been and done is an earnest of what He will yet be and do. “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.”
III. Confidence expressing itself in prayer. “Oh, prepare mercy and truth which may preserve him.”
1. He looks for preservation to God as the covenant God. “Mercy and truth,” loving-kindness and faithfulness, are the attributes which the Psalmist is accustomed to mention when he looks to God as a Being in covenant relations with His people. In His “mercy” God has entered into gracious engagements with His people; and in His “truth” He will fulfil those engagements.
2. His confidence does not supersede, but stimulate prayer. Presumption may lead to neglect of prayer; but faith quickens it. The attitude of true confidence is that of the bent knee and the uplifted eye.
IV. Confidence issuing in constant praise. “So will I sing praise unto Thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.” As the result of his trial and prayer and assurance the Psalmist looked forward to—
1. The ascription of praise to God. “His praising God was itself the performance of his vows.” He felt and acknowledged the binding force of the vows which he had made to God. And their fulfilment he regarded not as a duty merely, but as a joyous privilege.
2. The ascription of praise to God constantly. “Praise for ever, … daily perform my vows.” Praise to God should not be an occasional exercise, but a permanent element in the spirit of our entire life. Gratitude, reverence, and trust should characterise us at all times and under all circumstances.
CONCLUSION.—In the trials of life let the Psalmist, in this-exercise of strong and devout confidence in God in the time of his great trial, be to us both an example and an encouragement. Be encouraged to exercise trust in God, and imitate the character of this trust.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 61". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany